The London based band Bikini Atoll first surfaced on the music scene about 5 years ago. At first the four piece, consisting of Joe Gideon (guitar and lead vocals), his sister Viva (piano, guitar and backing vocals), Bastian (bass and vocals) and Che (drums and vocals), just played gigs around London. Their vigorous tunes, often reminiscent of the beautiful and rich sound of Joy Division, very quickly earned a loyal following.

Eventually, in August and October of 2002, they decided to go into a studio to record their debut album ‘Moratoria’. The band planned to release the album themselves, but record label Bella Union (also home to the Dirty Three) recognized the band’s massive potential and offered to release the album. 'Moratoria' finally came out at the beginning of 2004. This was a big step and also a major turn for Bikini Atoll. They played more gigs and their profile grew much stronger.

When 2004 came Bikini Atoll had enough material to record a second album. With great confidence they asked Steve Albini to produce it and he agreed. In September that year the band travelled to Chicago and spent two weeks intensively working on recording it with Albini. The new album, ‘Liar’s Exit’, finally came out at the beginning of 2005.

I finally caught up with Gideon 4 days before Christmas. On the phone from Prague to London we talked about the recording of ‘Liar’s Exit’, concerts and the band’s future plans.

PB : I know you played around Europe in October. It was your first time in Europe. What was it like?

JG : It was excellent. We played all over the place and we drove from London to Rome via Austria and Slovenia. It was a lot of driving but we got treated really well.

It is a lot different to playing in Europe compared to London. We always got fed and got accommodation at most places. It is also a lot more novel for us to go to Europe and obviously very exciting. We were there for two and a half weeks.

PB : What was the reaction of the people to your music?

JG : It was very good. We played a few headline gigs, and twice supported a guy called Jeffrey Louis who is really great. We also supported another Bella Union band called the Great Lake Swimmers. They are brilliant! Their lead singer, Tony Dekker, has an amazing voice. They are definitely worth seeing.

PB : Are you planning on doing it again soon?

JG : Yeah, hopefully in April. We are also hoping to play some gigs in Britain in March.

PB : The last time we did an interview it was just before you went to Chicago to record your second album with Steve Albini in his studio. How did you get in touch with him and how did the recording go?

JG : It was really good. He is very approachable. His whole belief is to be accessible to bands who make a certain kind of music.He is very charming and polite.

PB : What was it like to work with him?

JG : It takes a little while to understand what his job is. I had to understand the difference between the engineer and producer. The producer is someone who will have a vision of the sound. The engineer is someone who can record the sound really well and he is an engineer. His job is to record the sound as well as it can be recorded. That’s his way of producing. Anything that he records sounds like as if he produced it because he is so good at recording. He also mixed the album.

PB : What was the equipment like in the studio?

JG : He really knows what he is doing and there are no mistakes. Everything is set up for you to be able to play live. That’s what we did and that is the difference between this and our first album. The first album was recorded in pieces at different places.

PB : Did you have to bring all your instruments?

JG : We just brought bare essentials. He had all the amplifiers and a fantastic collection of drums so it wasn’t too difficult to do without our drums. We knew it would be quite easy.

PB : Did you actually stay there as well?

JG : Yeah, there are 4 rooms so it was perfect for 4 of us. Each room has its own TV, DVD and access to the kitchen. Albini stays there as well. He put all his money into it and he also lives there. He probably has 4 days off a year and the rest of the time he spends recording. When we arrived another band were leaving and when we were leaving another band were arriving. He is real workaholic.

I don’t think he is the kind of guy you can make friends with though. It’s just because he meets so many people and so unless you really hit it off you are just going to have a relationship with him. That’s understandable.

PB : Did you have chance to play any gigs while you were there?

JG : We did play just down the road from the studio in front of about 7 people (Laughs) but it was brilliant. It was really good fun and the promoter invited us back as well which is really good so we might play in the States sometime. It’s not really big priority at the moment.

PB : What is the big priority?

JG : Just to play in England and Europe.

PB : Going back to recording, did you know which songs you were going record before you went to Chicago and how many did you record?

JG : We recorded 14 songs but 3 of them aren’t on the album. We will just use them for B sides. The album lasts 45 minutes which is a good length.

PB : It is noticeable that the lyrics on the second album are very different compared to the first album. The first album seems more abstract while the lyrics on the second album are much more of a story telling kind. Where did you get the inspiration from?

JG : It’s a mixture of real life experience and some stuff I made up. ‘Nervous Wreck’…, do you remember the time of the Washington sniper?

PB : Oh yeah! (In 2002 'The Washington Sniper' killed 10 people and was sentenced to death 2 years later.)

JG : At the time no one knew who he was. I kind of thought I would imagine who he was and ended up imagining that he was a rock promoter of a venue.

PB : What about the lyrics to ‘Silver Moon’?

JG : I thought of the chorus first. You know it goes:

“And I think no one saw me,
But I know that’s not true,
You saw me, didn’t you?”

The moon did. It’s about someone who has got away with murder. I was trying to put together what that person was thinking and how he can’t handle it. Even though there are no witnesses to his crime his consciousness is the moon which is coming down on him.

PB : It’s a great song. It’s very easy to visualize it in front of your eyes. The song must be much older than your other stuff on the album as you have been playing that quite a long time at gigs, right?

JG : I wrote it about 3 or 4 years ago. To be honest I could have put it on ‘Moratoria’. I thought it was quite different compared to all the other stuff we had at the time and the lyrics were bit more direct. I wanted to use that as an inspiration so that the next album would be more direct. ‘Moratoria’ is more abstract while ‘Liar’s Exit’ is more direct.

PB : That brings me to my next question. Why did you decide to call the album ‘Liar’s Exit’?

JG : Hmmm... It makes me think “no bullshit”. If you lie then you should leave. That’s what I wanted this record to be “no bullshit” and that’s why we settled for that name.

I actually got that from a council tax office (laughs). It’s a sign in my local council tax office. You stand there in a queue which takes about 2 hours. I was going there a lot at the time and noticed that sign. I don’t know what they have it for. Maybe some letters have fallen off it or something because it doesn’t feel right. I thought I misread it so I had to go back and check (laughs) but no it’s actually hanging there.

PB : How did you decide on the running order of the songs on the album?

JG : I thought the best song to open with was 'I Turned a Blind Eye'. It starts with my guitar and each musician comes in different points of the song, so it as if it is introducing the band.

PB : The instrumental song ‘Shark Requiem’ is also one of your older songs. How did that song come about?

JG : We improvised it at rehearsal when we playing ‘Desolation Highway’ (One of the songs from 'Moratoria'-Ed) and when we finished the song we just carried on playing and ‘Shark Requiem’ came out of it. Bastian’s got this killer bass line and Che’s got this killer drum beat. We recorded that and then me and Viva recorded the music on top of it.

PB : Do you have a favourite song on the album?

JG : I’ve got a few. I really like ‘Silver Moon’ and also ‘Autumn’s Child’…

PB : I really like the lyrics to that one! How did that song come about?

JG : I wrote it at the same time as ‘Nervous Wreck’. My parents had a picture hanging on the wall in the house when I was a kid. And there was a poem in the picture which I sing part the way through the song. I have always loved that poem. It’s the only poem I’ve been able to remember. I was really happy I could use that in song.

PB : Who designed the artwork for the album?

JG : That came through Viva’s friend, Charles Avery, from university. He is an artist. Coincidently, when we were trying to figure out what to do he called. I asked if he had anything that might work for an album and he was very happy to help. I went over to his studio which was brilliant. Suddenly we had lots of stuff to choose from. It was great timing.

PB : I know you only just released your second album but have you written any new songs recently?

JG : I have a bunch of songs that I’ve written and I can’t wait to use those. The most valuable thing is to make sure you have an idea of what you want to do with your next album before the album comes about. Sometimes reviews and other things can confuse you. You have to be sure of where you want to go.

PB : Are you playing any of the new songs live?

JG : We just played a new song the other day.

PB : Do you have any plans for your next album?

JG : We are going to record it ourselves. We have found a good place to record it and the room has a very unique sound. Hopefully that will mean that the sound will produce itself.

PB : Thank you.


The photographs that accompnay this article were taken exclusively by Matthew Williams for Pennyblackmusic













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